Adding livability to any home and reducing a structure's carbon footprint are obvious reasons for going green on upgrades and remodels.
With the economy and real estate market in a funk, however, most homeowners are most likely to opt for eco-friendly home improvements that result in substantial — and instant — cost savings or boost resale value.
While it's a tossup whether or not green upgrades will pay for themselves in terms of increased property or resale value, incentives abound for homeowners who branch out and make eco-friendly choices in home improvement, from special bank loans to incentive programs and rebates.
Energy Trust of Oregon, for example, provides cash incentives for green upgrades such as replacing old appliances or windows with better running or insulated versions.
If upgrading with Mother Nature in mind, says Don McCoy, an Earth Advantage S.T.A.R. (Sustainability Training for Accredited Real Estate Professionals) consultant, keep within guidelines under the three primary energy saving programs;
EnergyStar (www.energystar.gov), Earth Advantage (www.earthadvantage.com) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program (www.usgbc.org/leed).
Each program offers a host of tips and incentives. Perhaps the most obvious payoff, reduced energy bills are a home value booster all their own!
According to an issue of Appraisal Journal, for every dollar of reduction in utility bills the market value of a home increases by an average of $20.
In some cases, expensive upgrades may reduce power bills or give peace of mind about conserving precious resources, but may take a number of years to recover actual costs.
An off-the-grid brown water filtration system, for example, is tough to gauge in terms of value while double-pane vinyl windows cut energy bills, increase value and improve aesthetics all at once.
First and foremost, says Exit Realty Group's Don McCoy, the first agent in the Rogue Valley to become certified by the Earth Advantage S.T.A.R. program, the easiest upgrades for which to recoup expenses are those that cut energy bills and improve a home's aesthetics.
"Anything you can do to have a tighter envelope," says McCoy.
"The outer shell of the house has to be sealed — windows, roof and walls — that's where energy is lost and that's where you recoup most of the value in the home, in terms of upgrades, when you go to sell."
Most realtors agree that new windows, followed by quality insulation in walls and doors, are perhaps the best upgrade for the sake of attracting prospective buyers with quality materials and low energy costs.
"For years, most homeowners would go in and redo the kitchen or bathrooms to attract prospective buyers, but with energy costs going where they are, the first question most prospective buyers ask are, 'What are the energy bills like?'" says McCoy.
"The second biggest check most homeowners write, beyond their mortgage, is for utilities."
Perhaps second most significant to prospective homebuyers are energy efficient heating and cooling systems that add substantial value — resale and otherwise. Systems more than 10 years old are unlikely to run efficiently and should be inspected and/or replaced.
As far as upgrades that might be tough to "recoup," give careful consideration to pricey or elaborate green features like alternative power systems and recycled materials.
At the top of the list for pricey upgrades that take decades to pay for themselves, solar power is improving leaps and bounds in terms of technology but remains pricey to incorporate into a residential setting. Basically, says Remax Equity Group real estate broker Angalee Sutton, solar power should not be added solely for the purpose of adding resale value.
"Even though it's desirable to have solar, from what I understand, even though you don't have a power bill, you have to deal with upgrades in the product," she says.
"You basically have to make sure, even though you don't' have that monthly power bill, that you calculate for ongoing upgrades."
Another consideration, Sutton says power hungry features, like hot tubs or well pumps, may not run well on solar power systems.
"Someone would have to say, 'I can't have a hot tub if I want to because I won't have enough power," she adds.
While especially pricey, less-than-mainstream upgrades may not pay off during a home sale, reduced energy costs are a plus and helping Mother Nature brings payback with at least a dose of good karma. Besides, a typical 2,000-square-foot solar house costs just $15 per month to heat.
Says McCoy, "It takes so many years to get your payback (in resale value) if you do something like solar or special landscaping, but the thing is, it's not necessarily just about getting your money back in a short amount of time," he says.
"When it comes to resale in today's world, most people won't care so much about most green features, but the more aware or more educated people are becoming savvy to it and it means something to those individuals."
He adds, "There will always be people who buy a hybrid car or use recycled paper because they care. For the most part, people are looking at aesthetics and, 'What are the energy bills?' But eventually that should change "¦ I think it has to."